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Sherlock – The best show America doesn’t know

This past month, 'Sherlock' elevated itself to (in my opinion) the best damn show on television. And most Americans don't even know it exists.

If you haven’t been paying attention over the last month, Julia and I have been each other’s emotional support as we went through another cruelly short series of BBC’s Sherlock, the story of Sherlock Holmes set in the present day. Last series was good. Really good. As in “I don’t know how they made a modern day Sherlock Holmes good, but this is so good” good. And I knew the second series would also be good, but I didn’t know it would surpass every other show I watch to be (in my opinion) the best running show on TV. Even when the show isn’t as good as it usually is (no, I didn’t like the Irene Adler episode as much), it’s still one of the best shows on television. And yet when I ask my fellow Americans if they’ve seen Sherlock yet, they think I’m talking about the movie … and that needs to change.

Why or how is it so good? Let me break it down for you.

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are fantastic
At the very heart of this show’s magic are Freeman and Cumberbatch, John Watson and Sherlock Holmes respectively.  Both of these men are stellar actors in general, but both really nail their characters in this show. Martin Freeman‘s John is charming and seemingly normal, but with an underlining thirst for the excitement that being Sherlock’s roommate/assistant/only friend brings. He’s also a highly intelligent doctor that reminds me far more of the novels’ Watson than his portrayals in the older films. And John is not afraid to call out Sherlock when he’s being an ass, which is important because he is often a smug ass. Speaking of Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch — most English name ever, by the way — might be my favorite Holmes. Cumberbatch has an intense, insanely entertaining presence. I could watch him evaluate people all day. Together, these men are just a dynamite duo — you can see the immense chemistry between these two actors even in the first episode and they happen to be hilarious playing off one another. I’ve loved every scene of Cumberbatch and Freeman together, and it’s going to be amazing to see them together as Smaug and Bilbo respectively in The Hobbit.

The modern setting works
If you would have told me a year and a half ago that there was going to be a Sherlock Holmes show set in the 21st century, I would have taken bets that it would bomb and hard. Even now I re-watch the first series and am just in awe at how effortlessly Sherlock and John fit into the modern world. Sherlock’s use of technology makes sense in so many ways. For one, Holmes has always been a lover of experiments and technological innovations. For another, just the innovation of the smart phone allows Sherlock to quickly research and cross-reference information.

The 90 minute time-frame is inspired
This part seems self-explanatory, but because each episode has 90 minutes without commercials to tell each story, there is so much story to tell! The characters grow more in one 90 minutes episode than they would in two 45 minute episodes because there’s no break in the action. It also allows for the mystery to unravel slowly, which is just much more fun than it being rushed. Probably the only downside to the show’s length is that I’ll find myself wanting to watch it before bed and forcing myself to not stay up late to finish it.

The side characters surprise you
This aspect of the show in particular has really taken off in the 2nd series compared to the 1st. We get to see Sherlock and Holmes have closer relationships with the normal people that engulf their lives, particularly Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson. Lestrade is played keenly by Rupert Graves as a man who understands the importance of Sherlock and who admires him in many ways, even if Sherlock gets on his nerves. Mrs. Hudson is a lovable flibbertigibbet. And there’s also Molly, a forensic pathologist who has a long-seeded crush on Sherlock. Her scenes have almost always been played for cringes (mostly because Sherlock is so apathetic to her), but she has evolved in series 2.

Moriarty is on another level
Perfect is a strong word, but this version of Moriarty is as perfect a villain as you can have. He is a perfect foil for Cumberbatch’s Sherlock as the very opposite side of the same genius coin — Sherlock is the sociopath, Moriarty is the psychopath. Even with the level of hamminess coming out of him, this Moriarty terrifies me. I can’t say enough about the actor who plays him and if you don’t know why that is, don’t look it up; it will only ruin it for you when he is revealed. I’m not even going to tell you who plays him. If you don’t know, don’t look it up. Just watch the show.

The series two finale changes everything
I’m forcing myself to not tell spoilers because my intention is to encourage my fellow Americans to experience this show themselves. However, it must be said — the series 2 finale was a game changer. Stakes were high. Our heroes got hurt. Things weren’t fair. I found myself intensely frustrated by the events of the episode and yet mystified by the cruelty of the villain. And throughout it all, I got to see just how tight the bond between Sherlock and John really is and you believe it because Cumberbatch and Freeman are incredible in these roles. Sherlock has developed these two amazing characters with a plethora of faults who have grown into better men through the course of just six episodes and nine total hours of storytelling. As Julia and I touched on in our original review of the episode, if Martin Freeman doesn’t get all the awards ever for his performance in the last scene of the finale then it will be a damn shame. The man had me in tears.

You might have heard already that Sherlock has been renewed for a third series and Moffat knew about it when they commissioned Series 2, that sneaky bugger. This makes the absolute perfect time to immerse yourself with the show. The second series premieres in the States soon (PBS, so you non-cable viewers can easily enjoy it), but at least check out the first series on Netflix Instant. And if for some reason you’re lucky enough to be in the UK and haven’t seen the show … go. Now. Watch. Enjoy.

Photo Credit: BBC

Categories: | Features | General | Open Letters | Sherlock | TV Shows |

13 Responses to “Sherlock – The best show America doesn’t know”

January 25, 2012 at 12:19 PM

I feel like it was not long ago that I watched Game of Shadows and loved it; then along came “The Reichenbach Fall.” Not to take anything away from Game of Shadows because Sherlock’s final confrontation with Moriarty was truly stunning – but “The Reichenbach Fall” achieved a new level of sublimity for one simple reason: Martin Freeman. He’s been great throughout the series, but his performance at the end there was emotionally ravaging – there’s no other way to put it. I identify more with the sociopathic Sherlock, but Martin forced me to feel John’s grief. I didn’t cry, but I felt it, keenly.

This man will be amazing in The Hobbit, as will Benedict, whose voice is, in my opinion, his most attractive attribute (and that’s saying something because he’s pretty damn attractive). Bilbo’s encounters with the dragon – spelled Smaug by the way – have always been my favorite part of the book, and I have no doubts that these two will do them justice.

January 26, 2012 at 1:05 AM

Fixed the typo, thanks for the heads-up on it. I really can’t wait for Martin Freeman to strike gold with a big dramatic film. The rest of the world will realize how brilliant an actor he is and all of us Sherlock fans will just nod and say, “Oh, we know.”

January 25, 2012 at 3:11 PM

I watched Series 1 on Netflix…but how did you watch Season 2? I can’t access the BBC iPlayer and it’s not being shown until April on PBS, I thought.

January 25, 2012 at 4:05 PM

You are so right about everything. I haven’t seen series 2 yet, but am gleefully re-watching series 1 on PBS right now & can’t wait until Masterpiece Mystery gives us series 2.

The thing is, the show doesn’t dumb anything down. It lets the characters be smart, prickly, annoying and everything else. The ancillary characters are interesting & engaging as you said–Mycroft & Lestrade especially. I was initially uncertain of Freeman, in part because of other roles he’s done, but he so completely inhabits Watson bringing depth the character as a survivor, a doctor, and a man who is in no way merely a sidekick to the brilliant, flawed Sherlock.

The 90 minute format is perfect since we truly get 90 minutes of character & story development.

Its a shame that due to the stigma against PBS more Americans aren’t noticing this show. In my opinion there is nothing on American prime-time that can stand up to the quality. I talk it up to everyone I can think of. I wish there was a way to talk PBS into re-running series 1 in the 3 weeks up to the premiere of series 2 — and then figure out how to advertise the hell out of it.

Do you know if Sherlock has gotten much coverage in either ‘entertainment weekly’ magazine or ‘tv guide’? I don’t get either anymore due to finances, but I would think EW would pick up on it especially with Freeman & Cumberbatch attached to The Hobbit.

The greater crime is the reports coming out that CBS, after having talked to the BBC team about adapting their show, are now developing their own modern-day Sherlock to be set in NY. Idiots the lot of them.

February 3, 2012 at 4:13 PM

My God please dont make a US version! Nothing agaianst US tv (most of it is far superior to ours these days, especially satire which didnt used to be the case), but it would be dreadfull, like a House spin off or something. The only thing I would say negatively about Sherlock is sometimes the characters do say ridiculous things like “the dominatrix that brought a country to its knees”(the head of MI7- more secret than MI6 would not say such a thing). Moriarty is as the poster says, brilliant. It may seem odd or “lame” to a mainstream audience here and in the US but whats great about Sherlock is its all about outwitting the villian, not pulling a gun and shooting him/her with a glib remark, also no lawyers or I a single mom but Im still the UN’s leading terrorist negociator crap.

Greetings from London

January 25, 2012 at 4:41 PM

I have this serious love/hate relationship with Sherlock, I love this show because I can’t multi-task while I watch, I hate it because I can’t multi-task while I watch.

January 25, 2012 at 5:29 PM

Entertaiment Weekly for Sherlock’s first season shown on PBS (which does not have the kind of audience the network or other cable shows have) had a picture and a little comment about it in their what’s on t.v. this week section and that is pretty much it. TV Guide had a nice review of it which is why I watched because had not heard anything about it before then.
I’s re-run showing has been this month (Great Game on the 29th) and other than it being on the tv schedule there’s been nothing about it being re-run other than on PBS.
There has been publicity in the magazines for Downtown Abbey.
I’ve mentioned to people if they have seen it and they hadn’t – except for one – and others I have lent out my 2nd copy and they have Loved it.
If this was on network t.v. and gotten the publicity it deserves then millions more would of seen it.
I do know Net-flix and people who buy DVD’s or rent that look good to them has helped it some, but not to the extent it deserves.
EW has had pictures and some articles on The Hobbit.
Just hope when PBS shows season 2 in May there Will be at least articles in the magazines about it.
They, as said, really need to advertise it! The quality of it is beyond excellent and Martin and Ben are so Great. If nothing else people need to see Benedict – one of the greatest actors of his time, or maybe any other.

January 25, 2012 at 8:22 PM

You’re right, if Sherlock had been on network TV it probably would have gotten the advertising it truly deserves. Just look at the glut of promotion for NBC’s Smash or even venerable warhorse CSI.

I’ve seen major American news organization articles about Downton Abbey, albeit via RSS, but nothing on Sherlock. It is completely baffling to me that not even EW has picked up on how popular the show is. Obviously no one is paying attention to fandom chatter on the internet. As you say, hopefully given how hugely successful series 2 was the publicity/news for series 2 when it gets scheduled on Masterpiece Mystery will pick up.

January 25, 2012 at 8:45 PM

I never thought I’d stop thinking of Martin Freeman as Tim from (the original) The Office. But he really does shine in Sherlock. As does Cumberbatch who is always fantastic. And not forgetting the wonderful Mark Gatiss. It’s just a brilliantly clever and well-crafted show

January 26, 2012 at 12:40 AM

I’m back. Did want to mention that last year Martin Freeman won a BAFTA For supporting actor for Sherlock. Benedict was nominated for Best Actor and did not win.
Now There is a crime. The fact he has not won the British TV Award for this role is beyond comprehension. He just won the Theatre Critics award for Best Actor in Frankenstein.
Martin will likely win another and Benedict better!
If you heard the voice over for “Study In Pink” on the DVD either Steven or Mark say they watched a playback and said..”Where’s Benedict” them they were seeing only Sherlock Holmes – That says it all.
Benedict & Martin hit it off immediately and they knew the chemistry would work from the first reading.
Martin’s final scenes (that i have read about) are also part of what the audience is feeling..we’d be doing the same thing.

January 26, 2012 at 12:31 PM

I get to see “Sherlock” when it airs on the BBC, and got the DVD set as soon as it was released on Monday – and when it comes to this programme, and reading your comments, it’s one of those times when it doesn’t feel ridiculous to feel fortunate to be here in Britain! I do hope you spread the word because the programme deserves to be watched and valued by millions; “valued” rather than “enjoyed”, perhaps, because “The Reichenbach Fall” had me in bits. This week I’m rewatching Series 1 and the chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is compelling right from the outset, and only seems more remarkable on a second viewing. And what writing! But I do agree that there’s no dumbing-down and that’s one thing that might make it a wee bit less accessible; I have a friend here who tried one and didn’t watch any more because she found it too “wordy”.

It says a lot that on the strength of this I might even go to see “The Hobbit”, thus breaking my own rule about not voluntarily watching anything involving elves. But then, since I’ve recently turned on to “Merlin”, it’s not such a stretch anymore.

About the BAFTAs last year – I was surprised that Benedict didn’t win, particularly since “Sherlock” won Best Drama Series, and Martin won Best Supporting Actor. Response has been so positive this year that it might be a hat trick?

February 3, 2012 at 4:14 PM

Very glad you lot are watching it! You trend setters you.

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